Contact: Guy Lamolinara, Library of Congress (202) 707-9217; Patricia Buck Dominguez, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (919) 962-1095; Merrilly E. Taylor, Brown University, (401) 863-2162

October 7, 1999

American South Represented in Three New On-Line Collections

Virginia Religious Petitions, First-Person Narratives and African American Sheet Music

In the first of three electronic collections relating to the American South, "Early Virginia Religious Petitions," presents images of 423 petitions submitted to the Virginia legislature between 1774 and 1802 from more than 80 counties and cities. These petitions, as well as the two other collections, can be seen at the American Memory Web site.

Drawn from the Library of Virginia's Legislative Petitions Collection, the petitions concern such topics as the historic debate over the separation of church and state championed by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, the rights of dissenters such as Quakers and Baptists, the sale and division of property in the established church and the dissolution of unpopular vestries. The collection provides searchable access to the petitions' places of origin and a brief summary of each petition's contents, as well as summaries of an additional 74 petitions that are no longer extant. The collection complements the Library of Congress exhibition "Religion and the Founding of the American Republic" ( and is a collaborative venture between the Library of Congress and the Library of Virginia.

A second new collection, "First-Person Narratives of the American South, 1860-1920," documents the American South from the viewpoint of Southerners. It includes more than 100 diaries, autobiographies, memoirs, travel accounts and ex-slave narratives published during and after the Civil War. These titles were digitized with an award from the Library of Congress/Ameritech National Digital Competition. This American Memory presentation also provides access to another 40 first-person narratives, many published before 1860.

Southerners comprise one third of the U. S. population, but only in recent decades have scholars and the general public begun to explore fully the richness and diversity of the Southern experience. These first-person narratives describe Southern life between 1860 and 1920, a period of enormous change. Defeat in the Civil War destroyed slavery-based social, political and economic hierarchies, and Southerners had to create new ones. Many farmers, confronted by periodic depressions and market turmoil, joined political and social protest movements. For African Americans, the end of slavery brought hope for unprecedented control of their own lives.

Southerners recorded their stories of these tumultuous times in print, diaries and letters, but few first-person narratives, other than those written by the social and economic elite, found their way into the national print culture. This digital collection focuses primarily on the first-person narratives of some of the relatively inaccessible populations. The voices of women, African Americans, enlisted men, laborers and Native Americans take precedence over those of general officers and notable politicians. Similarly, accounts of life on the farm or in the servants' quarters or in a cotton mill have priority over accounts of battles and public lives.

The texts for "First-Person Narratives of the American South, 1860-1920" come from the Academic Affairs Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Southern Historical Collection is one of the largest collections of Southern manuscripts in the country, while the North Carolina Collection provides the most complete printed documentation of a single state anywhere.

The third collection, "African American Sheet Music, 1850-1920," has been selected from the Sheet Music Collection at the John Hay Library at Brown University. The full collection consists of approximately 500,000 items, of which perhaps 250,000 are currently available for use. It is one of the largest collections of sheet music in any library in the United States. The sheet music, primarily vocal music of American imprint, dates from the 18th century to the present day, with the largest concentration of titles in the period 1840-1950.

Digitization of this collection is also made possible by a Library of Congress/Ameritech award.

Categories of particular note in the full collection include 19th century color lithographs; the works of Boston lithographers; music relating to World Wars I and II; music from the Yiddish-American stage at the turn of the century; early American imprints; Confederate imprints; Broadway show music; movie music; musical settings of American poetry; Rhode Island music; octavo band arrangements; and a very large collection of general popular music of the 19th and 20th centuries.

One of the most important categories in the Sheet Music Collection is the African Americana. The African American-related sheet music includes songs from the heyday of antebellum minstrelsy in the 1850s and from the abolitionist movement of the same period. It includes numerous titles associated with the novel and the play Uncle Tom's Cabin, so greatly influential in its day.

American Memory is a project of the Library of Congress National Digital Library Program, which aims to make available by 2000, in collaboration with other research institutions, more than 6 million items of American history. Already, more than 2.5 million items are available.

The Library of Congress/Ameritech National Digital Library Competition concluded in 1999 after three years. A $2 million gift from Ameritech made this program possible. During its three years of making awards 33 institutions large and small have received awards to digitize their collections and make them available through American Memory.

# # #

PR 99-149
ISSN 0731-3527

Back to top